What to do with whistleblowers

The drastic shortening of Chelsea Manning’s sentence by the outgoing Obama administration in the US has brought the topic of whistleblowers back into the spotlight as Australia continues to lag in the protection and reward of those who expose wrongdoing.

Ms Manning, was sentenced to a 35-year jail sentence in 2013 for the largest leak of classified and sensitive material in US history. Over hundreds of thousands of documents were given to whistleblower website WikiLeaks, that worked with media outlets to collate and publish the material.

The leaked material came from databases that then-serving US army intelligence officer Bradley Manning had access to while stationed in Iraq. Among the revelations were the documented increase in civilian deaths by US drone strikes and the abuse of detainees.

There had been escalating calls for US President Barrack Obama to use his powers of granting clemency following reports that Ms Manning has twice attempted suicide, spent six months in solitary and been on hunger strike.

Ms Manning, who has undergone gender transition while in prison, will now walk free on May 17 of this year.

The Australian founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, who currently is holed up in the Ecuador’s embassy in London claiming diplomatic protection, has said he would allow himself to be deported to the US, where he would face charges, if Manning was released early.

Compared to other countries Australia does little to protect and encourage whistleblowers, especially those from the private sector.

However, a deal made late last year with crossbench Senators Derryn Hinch and Nick Xenophon by the Turnbull government to pass its building industry watchdog legislation has afforded stronger protections to union whistleblowers.

These may be extended more widely throughout the private and public sector.

Last year the Uniting Church wrote a submission to a parliamentary inquiry looking at whistleblower legislation.

“The National Action Plan should include a commitment to protect and reward whistleblowers in the private sector … to expose human rights abuses carried out by management and employees of businesses,” the submission said.

As part of a resolution on combatting corruption Synod in 2014 called for “legislation to protect and reward private sector whistleblowers who expose fraud and corruption against Australian governments, similar to laws that already exist in the UK and US”.

The US and UK pay whistleblowers a percentage of monies recouped as a result of illegal activity, such as tax evasion, being exposed.

“The provision of financial reward for whistleblowing has allowed the US to expose major cases of illegal activity against the US Government,” the Church wrote in its submission to parliament.

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